Skip to navigationSkip to content

The Scots have 400 words for snow—including “nizzer,” “spitterie,” and “flaggie”

Reuters/Russell Cheyne
  • Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Researchers compiling a thesaurus of all words used in Scotland in recorded history have found a preponderance of terms for one of the country’s favorite conversation topics: bad weather. There have been more than 400 words for snow alone in Scotland, according to the Historical Thesaurus of Scots, a project from the University of Glasgow.

At various times in Scotland, a blizzard was a “nizzer.” A “sleeky” day meant one with a lot of rain mixed with snow. Snow could be “flaggie” (large flakes) or “spitterie” (small and driving.) If it snowed overnight, locals once wished for an “unbrak”—the start of the thaw. But don’t try dropping those on your next trip to Glasgow to curry favor with the locals. Most are historical terms not widely used today.

The number wallops the Inuit vocabulary’s apocryphal 50-plus words for snow, a myth excellently debunked (pdf) by linguist—and Scot—Geoffrey K. Pullum.

If you’re anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s probably a safe bet just to write off the weather as “dreich”—miserable.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.